Broken: Part 3

by Alicia McKenzie


Seeing what was left in the coffee pot, Domino made a disgusted noise. Ugh. Looks like a liquified version of something I'd scrape off the bottom of my shoe. She dumped the dregs of yesterday's pot into the sink and set up the coffee machine to make a new pot. After how poorly she'd slept last night, she needed the caffeine.

While the coffee-maker percolated happily away, she sat down, trying to shake off the remnants of morning grogginess and collect her thoughts. Damn, I wish I could remember what I was dreaming about last night, she thought, rubbing her shoulder to try and banish the tension from inexplicably sore muscles. She'd been somewhere hot, she remembered, but that was about it. Only a vague sense of--fear? A nightmare of some sort, Domino told herself, which was likely why she was stiff and sore all over this morning. Not a trace of a bruise, though, so she probably hadn't been sleepwalking or anything like that. You just slept wrong, Dom, that's all--

"Morning, Dom," Terry said far too cheerfully as she strode into the kitchen. Domino gave her a baleful look.

"Morning people. I hate you all." Terry chuckled as she got herself a glass of orange juice, and Domino rolled her eyes at the younger woman as she came over and sat down. "I'm serious, Cassidy. Wipe that smirk off your face or I'll be forced to kill you."

"Ye're in a fine mood this lovely morning, Domino," Terry said teasingly. "Did you nae sleep well?"

Domino shrugged, and winced as the ache seemed to grow, radiating down her right side. "That's putting it mildly," she said with an exasperated sigh, stretching tentatively. Go and work out for an hour or so after I've had my coffee--that should take care of the problem. "Maybe I was fighting with myself in my sleep, or something--"

"Or maybe ye were fightin' with someone else," Terry said, her green eyes suddenly very serious over the rim of the glass as she took another sip of her orange juice. "Ye've been talkin' in your sleep lately, ye know. Shoutin', t'be perfectly honest. Ye've woken me up a few times--I could hear ye right through the walls."

Domino flushed, and got up, going over to the fridge and rummaging through it for some breakfast. "Your father got ears like yours?" she asked casually, wanting very much to change the subject. Those dreams, she could remember with no trouble at all. And her subconscious was spending quite enough time arguing with Nate when she was asleep--she didn't need to be arguing ABOUT him with Terry in the light of day. "Considering the family mutant power, I'd imagine the two of you would almost have to have extra-sharp hearing--"

"And I thought I was good at changing the subject," Terry murmured wryly. "I'm being nosey, aye, but I'd still like t'know how long ye intend to go on pretendin' Nathan does nae exist."

Domino stiffened. "You know," she said without turning around, in a voice that sounded a little odd even to her own ears, "all these subtle hints you've all been dropping lately are getting a little tired. If you and the others want to go look Nate up, feel free. It's not as if the two of us would kill each other on sight, if that's what you're worried about."

"Dom--" Terry started, but Domino cut her off.

"I just don't think you'll like what you find," she said brusquely. "He made his choice, Terry, cutting you kids loose. Be grateful. The road he's walking at the moment, none of us want to follow." Her headache was getting worse, just at the thought of Nathan. Headache on two legs, that's our Cable--

When had that last conversation with him turned into a confrontation, anyways? Domino thought bleakly. Part of her wondered if it hadn't been doomed the moment she'd watched him walk through that door and call out Blaquesmith's name. Maybe it had been petty on her part, but just the thought of him choosing to keep company with the little rat again, rather than the people who cared about him--what she'd been planning to say to him had gone right out the window. And then, when he'd been so disjointed and confused, rambling on about getting back in touch with what they were fighting for and needing space, everything had just--kindled, all the anger she'd been nursing against him and the world and herself catching fire spontaneously. It had taken all of her self-control to turn and walk away. If she'd stayed, it would have gotten very ugly.

"Ye are still very angry with him," Terry observed quietly.

"No shit," Domino said with a strained laugh, settling on some fruit. She felt a little queasy, too--probably better not to have anything substantial until her stomach settled down. Closing the fridge door, she came back to the table.

"Why, Dom?" Terry persisted. "What on earth did he do? Ye never really told any of us the details--"

"He didn't do--I mean, it isn't--Terry, I am not going to get into this with you," Domino finally growled, defensively, and then caught her breath at a sudden, stabbing pain in her right side. It was gone again in a flash, but Terry caught her wince and frowned.

"Dom? What's the matter?"

"Nothing," Domino grumbled, forcing herself to straighten as she started to peel her orange. "Just a stitch in my side." Hadn't felt like that, though, which was weird. Admittedly, she'd dinged up her ribs a number of times in the last few months, but they'd been healed up for a while now. Anyway, it had been the ribs on her LEFT side, the last time. Good God, I feel ancient this morning, she thought in exasperation.

Terry raised an eyebrow, but let the subject drop. "Coffee's done," she said casually, gesturing at the coffee-maker. "Maybe ye'll feel more like yourself after a cup or five."

"Very funny, Terry," Domino said, getting up. "Just because you're a caffeine atheist doesn't mean--"

It was a distinctly odd sensation, to find yourself face-down on the floor after one step. "Ow," she said bemusedly, pushing herself up to her elbows. What the hell is this? Her knees had just--buckled, as if her legs had suddenly decided they weren't going to hold her weight.

Terry was at her side instantly. "Dom! Are ye all right? What happened?" she asked agitatedly.

"Nothing, Terry, just help me up--" Domino said reassuringly, wiping a trickle of blood from her nose. Great going, Dom, now you ARE going to have a nice set of bruises.

"Nothing?" Terry said, far too loudly, and very pointedly didn't help her back to her feet. Domino sighed as she sat up. "Ye don't just fall over for no reason, Dom. Did ye hurt yourself in that training session last night, and not realize it?"

Domino grabbed her arm, giving her a level look. "Calm down. I'm fine. I just tripped, or something--" Her legs were tingling oddly, like fading pins and needles, but she ignored it. "I must be more tired than I thought."

She let Terry fuss over her without protest, but firmly stepped on the notion of going to see a doctor each time Terry brought it up. This was nonsense. She was fine. She just needed to get some coffee in her and take it a little easy today--and then get a decent night's sleep tonight. That was all.


Footsteps. Cable slowly opened his eyes, willing them to focus. Two steps of footsteps, echoing down the hall outside his cell. Coming closer.

Coming for him.

He tensed instinctively, but then forced himself to lie still. One chance. Maybe. Have to take it. The aftereffects of the neural link seemed to have worn off, but he wasn't sure how far he could trust his reflexes, after what Apocalypse had done to him. Still, he had to try.

His cell door opened. "Let's get him back up to the lab before the Master gets impatient," a gravelly voice growled. Rough hands grabbed him, pulling him up from the floor, and Cable stayed deliberately limp. He opened one eye just enough to see the gun on the hip of the Dark Rider to his left.

One chance.

They got him more or less on his feet. Cable spared one moment to hope that his body was about to do what his brain told it--and then wrenched free of the too-casual grip of the one on the right. The Dark Rider erupted with a startled curse, pulling his gun, but by then Cable was already moving, spinning the second Dark Rider around to serve as a human shield, even as he disarmed him.

Being a typical example of Apocalypse's flunkies, the first Dark Rider fired anyway. Just a stun blast, but a strong one. His 'shield' screamed and went limp, and even the edge of the blast sent electric agony jolting through Cable's body. Somehow, he managed not only to stay on his feet, but to lift his arm and fire, before his opponent could get another shot off.

The blast caught the Dark Rider square-on, hurling him to the floor. Cable, reeling, let his unconscious captive fall and leaned up against the wall, struggling to catch his breath.

Only for a moment, though. Have to get out of here, he thought, his head swimming. Leaning down to grab the other gun, Cable left the cell as quickly as he could. All he could manage were short, gasping breaths, and his coordination was--off, somehow. He could barely put one foot in front of the other without stumbling. His legs felt like rubber, but every step sent a shock right up his spine. After a lifetime of compensating for the T-O virus, of being able to feel next to nothing in the affected areas, the sharp, overwhelming sensations in the left side of his body were more than disorienting. He wanted it to stop, almost as much as he wanted to get out of here.

He supposed that was ironic, in a way.

He staggered on through the corridors for what seemed like an eternity before it sank in that he had no idea where he was going. Swaying, he came to a stop, leaning up against another wall for support. Lost--damn it, no! His heart was pounding crazily in his chest. Have to think--find the way out of here. He'd been here twice--once as Tyler's prisoner, once on recon with Scott. He could do this. He just had to focus.

But it felt like he was in a maze. A rat, trapped in a maze. Running around in circles while someone stood above it all and laughed at him--

Shouting erupted at the end of the hall. Automatically, Cable threw himself around the next corner, just as more stun blasts split the air where he'd been a moment before. They wanted him alive. That wasn't particularly reassuring. Flipping the settings on both of his appropriated weapons off stun, he returned fire.

They'd been overconfident, not staying under cover. He should have been able to take out most of them in that first volley. But his aim was off--he couldn't seem to focus properly--and only two of the Dark Riders went down. He ducked back around the corner as the others opened fire again.

I let myself get stuck down here in a firefight, I might as well have stayed in the cell, Cable thought. He took a few more wild shots, and then ran--or lurched, to be more accurate--down the corridor, taking random turns, thinking to lose them in the maze.

Amazingly enough, it seemed to work. Or maybe they had just waited too long to come after him, not wanting to walk down that original corridor until they were sure he wasn't still lurking around the corner waiting to see what an energy weapon at point blank range would do to their heads. Either way, he wasn't going to complain.

Upwards, he realized, a few minutes later, when the shouting had grown even more distant. The corridors are slanting upwards-- No stairs, just long, gentle slopes, barely noticeable.

Up meant out, maybe? No--it had to. Think positive, Nate, he told himself feverishly. Our thoughts shape the universe and all that crap--

The look of the architecture changed as he staggered onwards. It was less utilitarian, more formal, reminding him of the temples of Apocalypse from his own time. He had a sudden, bizarre impulse to stop and scratch some graffiti on one of the walls, the sort of stunt he'd pulled when he was a brash fifteen year-old. Yeah, Dayspring, not too concussed, are we? A strange, breathless laugh, edging dangerously on hysteria, escaped him.

All he could think of was getting out. He had no idea where he'd go, once he did, but he'd take being baked to death by the Egyptian sun over this, if need be. Back to the lab, he said--not a chance in hell. Even the desert's better than that. Okay, so it wasn't much of a plan. No one said he had to think straight after a five thousand year-old mutant had just kicked the living crap out of him and then played Dr. Frankenstein with what was left--don't think about that, Nate. Not important right now. Just run.

The ceilings were getting higher, and the floor was leveling out. The hall he was in suddenly opened out into a massive room, the roof so high he could barely see it, between the dimness and his blurred vision. There were statues of Apocalypse placed at intervals around the room, enormous marble statues even bigger than life.

What the hell is this place? Cable thought dazedly, swaying on his feet. Some kind of shrine? It was too dim to be certain, but he thought he could make out murals of some sort on the walls--showing what, he didn't know.

And there was no exit to be seen, anywhere.

Weaving like a punch-drunk fighter, he stumbled wearily over to the nearest wall. If it was an exterior wall, there still might be a chance. He set the power cell on one of his guns to overload, and put it down at the base of the wall, backing away and taking cover behind one of the statues. One might not do it, but he wasn't going to totally disarm himself.

"Your point regarding the quality of my servants is well-taken, Dayspring. I shall have to consider a solution."

Cable froze. "Glad I could--be of service," he grated, trying to ignore the icy hand that closed around his heart at the sound of Apocalypse's voice. He turned slowly, seeing the External stepping from the corridor into the enormous chamber.

Apocalypse gave a rumbling laugh. "It is a beginning."

Cable shot a sideways glance towards where the gun was sitting against the wall. His hearing, sharp as it was, could barely pick up on the faint whine of the power cells, just beginning to cycle up to the point of overload. Anytime, now--

"You knew, didn't you? As soon as I got out of the cell," he said, forcing himself to straighten. He might be cornered, but he wasn't going to cower in one.

"Of course." Apocalypse moved forward into the chamber. He glanced at the gun lying on the floor, and shook his head. "It is an exterior wall," he said, almost condescendingly. "The explosion from the weapon may even be enough to achieve the desired effect. Quite ingenious. Adaptation--creativity." He stopped, regarding Cable with what looked almost like amusement. "I confess, I am somewhat--impressed. I did not believe you would be capable of even making the attempt to escape, let alone be able to get this far. An admirable effort."

The whine of the gun was growing louder. "Somehow," Cable said, as evenly as he could, "I don't think you're here to congratulate me for my ingenuity, are you?" Apocalypse didn't answer.

The power cell was about to blow; Cable ducked behind the statue again, just in time to avoid the explosion. The blast sent stone shrapnel halfway across the room and left a significant hole in the wall. Cable stepped out from behind the statue again, casting one look of desperate, frustrated longing out at the desert.

"Well?" he said, challengingly, turning back to Apocalypse. "Talk's cheap, you bastard. Are you going to do something, or are you just going to stand there and compliment me some more?" Oh, good move, Dayspring. Let's see if we can't get him pissed off enough to kill you, shall we? Even if that was beginning to look like it was the only way out of this--

Apocalypse's expression didn't change. If anything, it grew only more amused. "An interesting dilemma, yours," he reflected. "Faced with an escape route, do you take it, even knowing that the very attempt is futile? Or do you overcome that stubborn pride and surrender to the inevitable?" Apocalypse took a few, deliberate steps forward, and Cable forced himself to stand his ground, to halt his instinctive retreat before he got more than a half-step. His heart was racing again, adrenalin coursing through him even more than it had during his mad dash to 'freedom', and he couldn't seem to stop shaking. He wished he could pretend it was his injuries causing this, a simple physical reaction to pain and exhaustion, but he knew exactly what it was.

It was fear.

"I don't believe in the inevitable," he managed, hating how unsteady his voice was. He realized he was unconsciously guarding his injured right side, as if he was expecting Apocalypse to charge him again, as he had out in the ring. He let his arm drop. No point in advertising a vulnerability, even if Apocalypse already knew damned well that it was there.

"There seem to be the most curious gaps in your education, Dayspring," Apocalypse rumbled. "We shall have to remedy that." Those cold, utterly emotionless eyes narrowed. "Perhaps now is the time."

The barely-veiled implication jolted Cable into outright panic. He started to back away again, but Apocalypse remained right where he was, gesturing dismissively at the gap in the wall.

"Go," the External said, and now it was his voice that was challenging, goading. "Be defiant, be foolish, and go. Or accept your fate, and stay. Choose your path, Dayspring. Exercise the 'free will' you prize so highly."

"Free will--doesn't mean anything when it's not a real choice," Cable rasped. Trick--has to be a trick. No way is he going to let me walk out of here, not after all this--

"Oh, but the choice is very real," Apocalypse corrected almost patiently. As if he was a teacher, trying to explain something to a painfully slow student. "You have shown me that you are capable of cunning. Here and now, you can prove to me that you are capable of wisdom, as well. Or, you can react blindly, instinctively, like an animal chewing off its own leg to escape a trap." Apocalypse gestured at the hole again. "Go or stay, Dayspring. The choice is yours."

A choice that wasn't a choice. Two paths that weren't what they seemed. Cable stared at Apocalypse for a long moment, wishing desperately for his telepathy, for just a moment of insight that would let him know what was going on in the External's mind, to see where the trap was.

You wouldn't have been able to scan him anyway, you flonqing idiot, a harsh voice said to him. You know that. You've tried before. So stop stalling and decide!

Decide. Walk over and kneel down in front of the High Lord. Surrender--submit. Or turn and walk away, even though he knew it had to be a trick, knew that there was no way Apocalypse was going to let him go.

Frozen, indecisive, he stood there for a long moment, his thoughts scattered and oddly fragmented. Not real, part of him insisted. Just a nightmare. Right. A nightmare. One he couldn't wake up from. He swallowed another wild laugh, his vision blurring with more tears he wouldn't even acknowledge were there, let alone let fall. All Apocalypse was doing was offering him false hope, just as he had before. He had healed him, only to break him again. Now he was giving him a way out, a glimpse of freedom that could only lead back to the cell--or worse.

The symmetry of it was perfect. Hope and despair were two sides of the same coin, after all.

Heads, I win. Tails, you lose.

The laughter escaped this time, bringing with it a sudden, swelling recklessness, a wild, mirthful abandon he couldn't remember ever feeling before. Part of him wondered, distantly, if his mind had maybe just cracked. Frankly, though, he didn't really care.

It didn't matter.

Nothing mattered anymore.

For hate's sake, I spit out my last breath at thee-- The words drifted through his mind. He didn't have any idea where they had come from, but they seemed--apt. Cable looked back at Apocalypse, more laughter bubbling up from that strange, oddly terrifying place deep within him.

"Go to hell," he suggested almost conversationally, and, walking over to the hole in the wall, stepped out.

As soon as he was outside, the punishing heat of the desert vanished, and he shivered, the world seeming to spin crazily around him for a moment. He grabbed onto the broken edge of the wall for support until his balance returned. What the hell was he doing? he thought wildly. What was the point of this, of thumbing his nose at Apocalypse just for the sake of pride?

The air above the distant dunes shimmered with heat. Dunes that were as unreachable as the world beyond them. Cable took one unsteady step forward, his eyes fixed on the horizon. What he wouldn't give for one moment of his telepathy, just enough to send one call for help!

Another step, his shoulders hunching instinctively in anticipation of the attack that he knew was coming from behind, sooner or later. Thoughts flashed erratically through his mind. He wondered what Blaquesmith was thinking, whether his teacher had given him up for dead. He thanked whatever powers there were, not for the first time since the Dark Riders had appeared in Akkaba, that he'd left Irene behind on this trip.

Another step. Maybe he should be glad he didn't have his telepathy. Apocalypse probably would've handled a rescue attempt with as much casual ease as he'd defeated him in that ring. The thought of X-Force or the X-Men falling into a trap for his sake--

Another step.

Memories, now, rippling through his mind's eye like a film playing over and over again. Watching X-Force drive off into the sunset after fighting Selene at the Colossal Man Festival. Watching Scott and Jean in Alaska. Watching, always watching. Telling himself that what he had to do would be easier without involving them.

Another step.

Trying to convince himself that they were better off without him. Trying to pretend that he wasn't afraid, that he didn't feel time running out, speeding him headlong towards his 'destiny'.

Another step.

And here he was. The failed messiah. Longshot and I should start our own club-- he thought dazedly. But then, Longshot had won eventually, hadn't he--beaten his version of the Beast? He couldn't remember. Past and present and future swirled together in one impenetrable knot, timelines piled upon timelines, tangled skeins of his life that he could never even begin to unwind.

Another step.

Failed--I failed--all of them-- The desert blurred in his vision again, and he nearly stumbled. A immense chorus of angry voices was screaming at him inside his mind, millions upon billions of voices whose doomed lives would fall out just as they had, in that same terrible, immutable pattern, because he hadn't been fast enough. Hadn't been strong enough.

Another step.

The gun dropped from his hand. He hadn't even thought to use it. The emptiness inside him was growing, turning him into a hollow shell, nothing more. What is, is--what I am, I am--

Another step.

A weapon. Only a weapon. And one that had missed its target.


Yet somehow, even as his thoughts spiraled downwards into the bleakest despair he had ever know, he found the strength to take one more, wavering step.

Apocalypse finally broke the silence.

"So be it," he said. And Cable heard the sound of an energy blast of some sort, just before it struck him with bruising force, knocking the wind out of him and hurling him to the sand like a broken toy. A puppet with its strings finally and irrevocably cut.

Apocalypse's shadow loomed over him, blocking the sunlight. All Cable could do was fight for air as the External reached for him.

"Let us begin your first lesson, then," that thunderous voice said. It was the last thing Cable heard before he blacked out.


Domino was in the middle of working out her frustrations with a punching bag when it happened. An immense, invisible hand reached down from heaven and swatted her, as if she were nothing more than a fly.

Dazed, her head spinning, she opened her eyes to find herself lying on the floor.


I think I'm getting a little tired of this-- She pushed herself up to a sitting position, shaking her head to clear it. All right, she thought, what the fuck's going on?*

Then, like a cold wind blowing from some incredible distance, tendrils of dark, anguished emotion drifted past the very edges of her perception. Desperation, shame, pain, fear--the vaguest hazy image of a giant dark figure standing over her--

Gasping, she struggled to her feet, holding onto the punching bag for support, her heart thudding crazily in her chest. What's happening--Nate, is that you? she called out desperately. She hadn't tried to reach him since the day that the psi-link had gone dead, just one more casualty of the Shadow King's mindtrap on the astral plane. Nathan!

Nothing. The image was gone; even the most intense of the empathic tendrils was swiftly fading. The sense of urgency they left behind, though, was all hers.

Shit! Damn you, you stupid, stubborn son of a bitch, what the hell kind of trouble have you gotten yourself into this time? Can't I leave you alone for five minutes? Forgetting her workout, clinging desperately to the rapidly fading impression of his presence, she ran to the phone, nearly running over Tabitha in the process.

Hands shaking, she dialed the number from memory, ignoring Tabitha's frantic questions. The phone on the other end rang three times before someone picked it up.

"Xavier Institute," Ororo Munroe's voice said distractedly.


"I know you can hear me, Dayspring."

Cable's eyelids felt like lead weights, but he forced them to open--only to narrow them to slits again as the sunlight nearly blinded him. Still--outside-- his mind registered hazily. Why--

Apocalypse was suddenly standing in front of him. Cable instinctively shrank back--only to realize he was restrained again. Not as totally as before--he could still move a little--but he was tied spread-eagled to--something, his wrists and ankles secured quite efficiently.

What is--this? His eyes still watering, he turned his head to one side and then the other, giving a hoarse, hollow scrape of a laugh when realization hit. "A-An 'X'?" he choked out. "Bit--over dramatic, n-no?"

Apocalypse raised an eyebrow. "It seemed--appropriate," he said almost mildly. Cable was seriously beginning to wonder what it would take to get the External actually ANGRY with him. "I am not without a sense of--poetry, if you prefer to call it that. You have been a slave of Xavier's senseless dream for your entire life, whether you choose to admit it or not. Perhaps the symbolism will help you to realize that."

Cable swallowed. His throat felt like sandpaper, but he managed to spit a few words in Askani, an anatomically impossible suggestion as to what Apocalypse could do with his 'symbolism'.

Although the External couldn't have understood a word of it, he clearly recognized the tone. A trace of irritation showed on that cold face for the first time. "I have no patience to deal with this insane stubbornness of yours," Apocalypse growled. "This--" he gestured expansively at their surroundings, "is your reality now, boy. Perhaps letting your own demons argue with you for a time will make you more--amenable to it." He straightened, and Cable only then realized that Apocalypse was in a considerably larger form than he had been back in the 'shrine'. But then again, maybe not--maybe his vision was just playing tricks on him.

Or maybe it just looked that way, because he felt so small.

"I will return for you when I deem it appropriate," Apocalypse said. His voice seemed to come from an increasing distance. "Look on this as a time of reflection, Dayspring. Use it well. Resign yourself to what is."

Apocalypse left without another word, leaving silence in his wake. Alone with the sun and the sand and the desert wind, Cable tried to relax as best he could in his restraints, to ease the strain on his shoulders.

The pain of injuries both old and new clamored for attention, like neglected children, and the techno-organic side of his body seemed already to be absorbing the heat, drawing it into itself almost greedily. He'd been exposed to the sun like this before, but never before had he been able to feel it like this. Newly-awakened nerve endings started to scream warnings to his brain, before the sun had moved even a fraction of the way across the sky.

I will return for you when I deem it appropriate.

When would that be? When there was nothing left of him but sun-bleached bones? Cable wondered distantly. You wish, Nate, a voice said sardonically. More like when there's just enough left of you to be--pliable.

Lessons--Apocalypse had said something about a lesson, just before he'd blasted him. Teach me--he wants to teach me? What does that mean?

Something told him he'd find out.

Too egotistical--too stubborn to use that gun the way I should have. On myself. Cable started to laugh weakly, helplessly, his whole body shaking with desperate, humorless mirth. Suicide as viable option? So much for 'hope springs eternal'-- He laughed until tears started to trickle down his face, water he couldn't afford to waste.

Hope--right. Hope springs eternal--more like hope leaves you in the lurch. No, hanging. Hanging out to dry on a flonqing 'X' in the middle of the flonqing desert. Hope has a nasty sense of humor. And what did that mean when you were supposed to BE hope embodied? The great white hope--soon to be the great charbroiled hope if he leaves me out here for long enough--how do you like your Askani'son, Mr. Nur? 'Well-done, if you please--'

Oath, maybe he was going insane.

Maybe it was better that way.

to be continued...

Part 4

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